Theater has always been a form of art native to children. Watching them play and create their own games and stories has been a staple of the family tradition, and more than a few parents have taken the opportunity to canonize these moments on YouTube.
Cynthia Speakman, a local actor and teacher with the Sacramento Metro Arts Commission, has been in the game for over a decade, working with children to improve their performing skills and ability to be outgoing and expressive.
"I think it's very natural for kids to act because they have an enormous need to communicate to others," says Speakman. "Even the kids who aren't extraverted want to be more confident, and for parents it's a remedy of sorts for getting [their kids] out there when they see them as 'too shy.'"
Speakman always emphasizes the idea of the storyteller in her after-school programs, and says that what gets kids going more than anything else is their ability to not only be in a story, but also to see how one is made.
"I think that's what theatre should be about when you're a little kid," says Speakman, "how a story is put together in a visceral way, and how to communicate verbally so you can get through those presentations that you're going to have to do your whole life!"
Over her career as a teacher, working in the multi-purpose rooms of many local elementary schools such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Crocker Riverside, she has taught over 2,000 children and young adults the mystique and fun of the stage.
One of her more recent students, Will Block, 15, played the role of Puck in the Sacramento Shakespeare Festival's 2010 production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." His younger brother, Tom Block, 13 and another of Speakman's students, played Wally Webb in City Theatre's production of "Our Town."
"Some of my students have gone on to do bigger things with their acting," says Speakman. "The majority of my students have more confidence, and that's what I'm after."
When she's not teaching children the joys of theater, she enjoys performing in a local troupe called StoryVoices, a group of spoken word artists who create theme based programs for fundraisers and benefits. She also performs as a guide for Hysterical Walks, a walking tour of Old Sacramento.
Her most recent program is a workshop that stimulates cultural awareness in kids. The children come together at the California Stage and throughout the three day camp they conceive, write, rehearse and perform vignettes for family and friends about what New Year's celebration is like in other countries.
The workshop will take place over the break between Christmas and New Year's. The workshop is from Tuesday, Dec. 28—Thursday, Dec. 30, and last from 9 a.m.—3 p.m.
1. Cynthia Speakman (Courtesy of Studio 24)
2. Speakman performing for an audience during a Hysterical Walk
3. StoryVoices (from left to right: Marni Webb, Jan Ahders, Cynthia Speakman, Claire Lipschultz